Serene/content: Grieg

Morning Mood is the first movement in a four-movement suite (No. 1) entitled Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The melody to this piece is very well-known, as is the playful and devious one from the fourth movement, In the Hall of the Mountain King. Beginning instrumentalists will know Morning Mood well because they only have to know 5 notes to play the melody. It appears in most beginner method books. Even though this work has been overly-exposed in method books, commercials and for every other frivolous occasion, I still find it to be a masterpiece worth experiencing from time to time because of the great contentment it expresses.

I have always imagined a dramatic sunrise while listening to this piece. At first, the dynamic is calm and soft – a very serene atmosphere. But as the light gets stronger, the tension builds as the listener gets the first glimpse of sunlight. When the light finally breaks fourth, a beautiful and vibrant landscape is revealed. I love how Grieg never leaves a phrase of music to end where it began. This piece is continually modulating to a higher, brighter-sounding key. To me, this signifies the sun rising higher in the sky. Instead of ending a phrase where it began, it moves beyond where we expected, which is thrilling.

There are many comforting aspects of this piece. The morning can often be a beautiful, inspiring time of day. To focus on nature with the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste – can help relieve stress and make life seem to slow down a little. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “stop and smell the roses.” The message of this weeks posts on emotion is that life could be just that much easier and more peaceful by listening to Classical music actively, while not doing anything else but taking in its beauty and listening to its simple messages.

Next week: Anger! Grr!

Serenity in nature: Respighi

Many listen to Classical music because of its capacity to relax and intrigue the listener. This is certainly the case in Pines of the Janiculum, the third movement from Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). Janiculum Hill is a landmark in western Rome that has some historical and mythological significance. Click the link to read about it on Wikipedia.

Pines of Rome is four programmatic movements – there is a story in each. The scenes take place in a village with children playing, in dark catacombs, climbing a mountain, and on a hill at night overlooking a beautiful city with nightingales chirping in the background, which is the case for this movement. Each movement depicts the great diversity pine trees around the city of Rome.

Pines of the Janiculum begins and ends with beautiful, extended clarinet solos. This excerpt from the first solo is incredibly sentimental. It brings to mind all that is beautiful, sweet, peaceful, good, warm, and right in the world. The character of it is also playful and not too serious, but one of great contentment. The soft dynamic, warm-sounding string chords, and the beautiful tone quality of the clarinet help bring these sentiments about.

This next clip is simply breath-taking. The orchestra seems to sigh, as though it is taking in a beautiful view of nature for the first time. Though I have probably heard it a thousand times, I am often moved to tears by this section. The harmony is mysterious and beautiful. As it gets louder, the chord progression moves in a direction that is a surprise, which helps draw in the listener. The effect is always deeper relaxation.

To people who say they don’t like Classical music I would say listen to all four movements of Pines of Rome. Respighi speaks to the human experience in this piece in a tangible way.